Managing Runners


I was just going through my previous blogs adding labels. I noticed that I mention the word "runner" more than once. It dawned on me that I should explain what I mean by "runner." Since I have been working with children with autism (ASD)I have had at least one runner per year. A runner is a child with autism who spontaneously runs.

Some runners are easy to manage. I consider a runner who seldom runs, runs slowly, or stops to see if someone is chasing them to be easy to manage. Through the years I have had maybe one of these. Other runners can be very challenging to manage. Lately, I've been getting at least one of this type of runner every year. These little guys require a lot of planning. THEY DO NOT CONSIDER SAFETY.

The most extreme runner that I've had was 2 years ago. He was 6 years old. Not only did he spontaneously run, but he was SO FAST!!! I literally lost 6 pounds the first two weeks that I had him. It caused me to have to be on high alert (mentally & physically) all the time.

To help you get a feel for what it can be like I will share this story:

One morning I drove up to work. I arrived at the same time as one of my coworkers. As we got out of our cars, she noticed a crowd gathered across the street. She said, "I'm going to see what's going on over there." That was not my plan but I decided to go too. It was a good thing that I did because when the crowd cleared, who was at the center but my student!

He rode the school bus to and from school.  On the bus he used a harness and he had an attendant.  Each day when the bus arrived, he had to be escorted (holding his hand) from the bus to the duty teacher. This particular morning, the bus driver must have let her guard down for a second allowing him to escape. He ran across the street without regard for cars or anything.

Thank God he didn't get hurt. He ran into a neighbor's yard and tried to climb their wooden fence. On the other side of the fence was a big dog! Anyway, the fence slowed him down enough for the bus driver, attendant, and duty teacher to catch him. It was a very frightening experience for all parties involved (except my student).

This type of behavior can be very typical of a runner. These are the strategies that I have found to be helpful when managing runners:

Let Them Know Before You Go:
 
Before leaving to go anywhere with a runner, I find that giving them a picture symbol to carry during the transition and telling them where you are taking them is helpful. They are more willing when they know where they're going. (seems like a no brainer huh?) :) And if by chance they run, sometimes they run to the destination rather than some place where they shouldn't be.

Hold their Forearm:
 
During transitions such as walking to the cafeteria or anywhere around the school, I find that holding their forearm in a firm yet gentle grip is a good way to keep them from running.  I don't like to hold hands because hands get sweaty and they can easily wriggle free. 

Use Safety Knobs:
 
 
A safety knob is a first line of defense in your classroom or at home. It is not fool proof. Don't give the child opportunities to study the knob. When you see the child go near the door, redirect them. For some runners, the safety knob is enough. For others, it only temporarily slows them down providing you an opportunity to stop them. You can buy a safety knob from places like Walmart (on the baby aisle), Lowe's, and Home Depot.

Furniture Arrangement:

When managing a student who is a runner, furniture arrangement is VERY IMPORTANT. Doors should be cleverly disguised for an "out of sight, out of mind" effect. I doubted this technique when it was suggested to me. I thought, "he is too smart for something so simple." Well it wasn't THE answer, but it helped a lot. Once I put it in place, there were noticeably fewer running incidents.

Create a lot of corners or "dead ends." The year that I had the runner that I mentioned in the story above, I spent the first week or so of school running in circles around the classroom. He was very smart and very fast. If I tried to catch him one way, he simply went another way. He had too many options. I quickly learned how strategic placement of furniture can help. By creating corners, you are creating dead ends that allow you to catch the runner more easily.

It has been my experience that once the child realizes that you will catch him every time in that setting, the running stops. (You still need to guard your doors) The picture below is an example of a workstation that I used last year. The corner helped stop my student from running away when it was time to work. I scattered these types of corners all throughout my classroom and it really worked well.

 
Use a Harness:
 
If all else fails, you have to put SAFETY FIRST. Sometimes that means using a harness. For extreme runners, a harness can be a great tool. For a mild runner, I would not recommend using it in the classroom or for extended periods of time but they are very good for field trips. You do not want your runner escaping at the zoo! You can usually find a harness in the baby section of Walmart for about $12.


 
This student required the harness everywhere we went, even in the classroom. Notice the handle is removed for comfortable movement around the classroom.

In some cases, you may need to hold the harness firmly at the base rather than the handle because the plastic clip that attaches the harness to the leash (for lack of a better word), can be broken if the child is strong enough.



ABA Therapy:
 
Last year I had a runner who I learned to manage very well, at school using picture schedules, furniture arrangement, verbal cues, routines, incentives, and holding his forearm during transitions. 
 
At home, his mom was not enjoying the same experience. Neither were his other service providers. His mom decided to get ABA therapy for him. The therapist worked with him both at home and at school. Among other things, she worked on helping him to walk without holding his hand. Though he wasn't cured, we did see noticeable progress. Mom was pleased. 
 
That's all that I can think of to share about runners for now. If you have any comments or questions for me about runners, use the comment box and I will answer to the best of my knowledge.  I hope that this was helpful.

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